Hiking ECT: Deadman’s Bay Path

I haven’t hiked Deadman’s Bay Path since 2019, but it is one of my favourite trail sections on the ECT and I’ve done it 3 times. Most recently I did it with Lien and Brandon when they visited Newfoundland for my wedding, but I’ve also solo hiked it in the past. This section of the trail runs from Fort Amherst to Blackhead and is approximately 10.5km in length. I feel like it has a bit of a bad rep because of the steep climb out of Fort Amherst, but I think it’s unjustified because it’s only a steep climb and the views from the top and along most of the trail are really unparalleled.

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You can hike the trail in either direction, but I’ve always done it from Fort Amherst to Blackhead. If you try to logic that the other direction will avoid the steep climb, you’ll just have to do it out of Freshwater Bay instead, so either option is basically the same. I definitely recommend 2 vehicles for this trail since you won’t want to have to turn around and go back the entire trail, but given the proximity to St. John’s, it’s easy to get dropped off or picked up on one end. If you’re looking for a shorter day, you could also exit at Freshwater Bay or just turn around at Freshwater Bay and only do half the trail. I haven’t done the Freshwater Bay access trail in years, but I believe it’s about a 45 minute walk.

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If you start in Fort Amherst, you can visit the lighthouse and get the climb out of the way early. It only takes me about 15 minutes to climb up to the top of the bluff and once there, you’ll have an amazing view of Signal Hill and downtown St. John’s. One time I started the trail around noon and ate my lunch once I reached the top so I could enjoy the view a bit longer. If you don’t want to do the whole trail and are just looking for an hour long walk to get some exercise, I suggest doing the climb up to the top and just enjoying the view before turning around. It’s a great workout and will help build up your stamina.

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After that, the trail meanders along the top of the cliff without too much up or down. It goes in and out of the trees and past a few water holes, all with fantastic views of the coastline. Right around the 4.5km mark you start the downhill section into Freshwater Bay (which is the worst uphill part if you go the opposite direction). Freshwater Bay is another lovely short hike on it’s own if you want to park off Blackhead Road on the way to Signal Hill and hike in. It’s marked by the long strip of beach that separates Freshwater Bay Pond from Freshwater Bay – I’ve never swam in the pond myself, but Emily has and it makes for a good cool down on a nice day.

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I had a minor breakdown at Freshwater Bay when I hiked it with Lien and Brandon because I forgot sunscreen and was petrified of getting a sunburn or awful tan lines before the wedding, but fortunately a kind stranger happened upon us at the exact right moment and lent me some! Freshwater Bay is located at ~5.5km, so it makes for a good halfway point to stop and have lunch if you’re doing the whole trail.

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After crossing the beach, you head back up into the woods and traverse along the edge of the bay. The trail comes out of the woods at the end and I recommend following the trail out to the viewpoint on Small Point for amazing views back to St. John’s and out to Cape Spear. After Small Point the views are more about Cape Spear than St. John’s and the trail winds it’s way around Deadman’s Bay before finally heading into Blackhead. The trail is pretty exposed walking into Blackhead, so gets pretty windy and you can get hit with ocean spray on a particularly blustery day.

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If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can continue for another 4-5km to Cape Spear on Blackhead Path. I did this once when I was hiking solo and I was ahead of schedule for when my Dad was going to pick me up. It’s not a difficult trail, but it will significantly lengthen the hike, so most often I just end at Blackhead. I’m about 60% through the East Coast Trail to date, but Deadman’s Bay Path remains one of my favourite trails, and given it’s proximity to the city, I definitely recommend!

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ECT Series: Piccos Ridge

Piccos Ridge is the most recent section I’ve done on the East Coast Trail. It runs from Portugal Cove to Bauline on the west side of the northern Avalon Peninsula. The trail has been around for many years, but it is one of the newer trails and the ECT association has been doing trail expansion on the northern side of Bauline Line recently as well.

At 14.5km, Piccos Ridge is one of the longer trail sections and it has a bit of a reputation of being one of the more challenging trails due to the steep uphill at both ends of the trail (and throughout). Emily hates this section and when I was out for dinner in July with my family, my cousin started bragging about how he had done Piccos Ridge and therefore could pretty much do any other trail. I was skeptical that Piccos Ridge was the pinnacle of Newfoundland’s challenging hikes, so I figured I’d bump it up my bucket list. I ended up having to make a surprise trip home again in September and decided to give the trail a try to see if it lived up to my cousin’s assessment.

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I will admit, Piccos Ridge is harder than some of the other trails of similar length, such as Stiles Cove. I didn’t find it as challenging as some of the other sections I’ve done (the Spout kicked my ass), and I’ve definitely done more strenuous mountain climbs in BC, but I can definitely see where it gets its reputation. It is very steep climbing up the trail out of Bauline and there is a fair bit of undulation across the rest of the trail, so it feels like a lot of climbing throughout. I read a few reviews on AllTrails before going and they all strongly recommended starting the trail in Portugal Cove and going north because the last stretch into Bauline “was very difficult to even climb down it”. Friends, can I let you in on a secret? It is so much safer to go up steep sections than down. Also, I have bad knees and I prefer going up over going down, so I decided to buck the trend and start my hike in Bauline.

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It took me about an hour to get from Bauline to the first lookout. That is the most strenuous part of the hike, so I was glad to get it over with early and it got much easier after that. I went on this hike solo and it was interesting because I hiked shortly after Hurricane Larry had passed through Newfoundland, so there was a lot of blowdown along the trail. I debated a few times if I was maybe getting myself into trouble climbing over the trees and would potentially get stuck somewhere further along the trail, but the first section was the worst and I didn’t encounter too much more downfall after that.

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From the first lookout, you hike back down a little bit before ascending up to Piccos Ridge, which is the highest point along the trail. Even though it was getting later in September, I encountered quite a few berries in this section, particularly partridgeberries! You continue along the ridge for awhile before making a big decent through the trees towards several ponds. There is an unofficial campsite located at Brock’s Head Pond at about the 8.5km mark. I could only see room for 1 or 2 tents in the trees, but there is a bit more open space just past the pond at the river, which is the water source. There are no facilities.

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There’s one last uphill climb after the campsite, but then it’s smooth sailing after that! I think this was my favourite section of the hike because it’s all wide open and barren at the top. Piccos Ridge has a lot of different viewpoints, but large parts of the trail are in the trees, so I love hiking along the barren rock with the Atlantic stretched out alongside you. The view from this trail is into Conception Bay, so on a clear day you can see over to the other side of the peninsula and there are great views of Bell Island.

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The rest of the trail is a steady downhill, so I can see how it’s a strenuous trail from either end, though the uphill is more gradual on the Portugal Cove side, which is why most people prefer that direction. Unfortunately I didn’t end up making it quite to the end of the trail. A few things came up and I decided to get off the trail a little early to try and make another appointment. Shortly after the 12km mark (so 2km before the trailhead in Portugal Cove), there’s a branch that exits off to Blast Hole Pond Road. The very top section of the road is gated, but then it’s gravel road which turns to asphalt. My knees were really bothering me, so I figured this would be an easier and quicker exit along the road, which was definitely the case. Mom was going to pick me up at the top, but I ended up powering it down the entire road before she got there. So overall I did the same distance, but skipped the last 2km to the official trailhead.

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I would definitely go back sometime and hike up from the Portugal Cove side just to get the views. The highest view on that end is at 4km, but there’s views along most of the trail here, so you could hike as far as you want and then turn around for a shorter hike. In total it took me 5 hours, but I didn’t stop very much and I would recommend more time if you’re in a group or want to pick some berries. I did really like this section of the trail though considering Emily has been bad-mouthing it to me for years. There’s some ECT sections I wouldn’t want to do twice, but this definitely isn’t one of them!

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ECT Series: Stiles Cove Path

When I first started hiking the East Coast Trail, I did a lot of the trails near St. John’s. It’s a long drive to get down to some of the hikes on the Southern Shore (especially since you need 2 cars for a lot of them), so it was easier to do hikes close to home. Stiles Cove Path runs from Flatrock to Pouch Cove; however, at 15.1km, it’s one of the longest trails on the northern part of the East Coast Trail, which means it was one of the last ones I did.

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When I was home this summer (2021), I decided it was finally time to tackle Stiles Cove. The weather was extremely variable the entire time I was home, meaning it was hard to predict if you would have a clear day, a foggy day, or a rainy day (or more likely, all three!). Most of my friends were working during the weekdays, so I decided to hike Stiles Cove solo. I’ve been doing a lot of solo hiking in NL in recent years and have come to really enjoy it. There are much fewer wild animals to worry about in Newfoundland – black bear encounters are very unlikely (and the black bears are very small and skittish) – so your most likely encounter is probably a moose. It’s scary when you see them due to their size, but usually they don’t have much interest in you.

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It was foggy almost every morning, but on the morning I decided to hike Stiles Cove, the forecast was predicting the weather would clear up, so I decided to go for it. My Mom dropped me out to Flatrock on her lunch break and agreed to come back to get me 5 hours later when she got off work. It was drizzling on the drive out and Mom was convinced it was going to rain for my whole hike (she really hates the rain) and that I would regret it. Fortunately, she was wrong! It was pretty misty when I started the trail and the fog was hanging along the coast, so there wasn’t a whole lot to see at first. The trail starts along the rocky coast and you go inland briefly near the beginning to cross the river, where there’s a nice little waterfall. I hiked about a kilometer before stopping for a quick lunch. It was still overcast, but I could tell the fog was already starting to lift a bit and I had a nice view back into Flatrock.

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From there the trail hikes up towards Red Head Cliff. It’s only a few kilometres into the trail and already, I had a trip highlight! Red Head is beautiful! It’s a sheer red cliff descending into the ocean, with a big grassy head to explore around. What made it so beautiful when I visited is that the fog had moved out enough that it was now hanging around the horizon, making it hard to tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. I thought it was incredibly beautiful and I love getting out of the trees and hiking along grassy knolls, so I was already very satisfied.

The trail continues down the head and along the edge of a cliff around Red Head Cove where I stumbled upon a few trail workers. They were working on improving some of the boards over the muddy section and were the only people I saw the entire day until I started the hike into Pouch Cove.

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The next part of the hike is between Read Head Cove and Stiles Cove and is mostly in the woods. It breaks out of the woods a few times and I stopped to have another snack before continuing on. You can’t get to Stiles Cove on the trail, but the view down to the beach is gorgeous. It was still overcast when I passed by, but I can imagine that on a sunny day the water would be the brightest blue!

Again, the trail goes back into the woods as you continue towards Spout Cove, which marks the halfway point of the trail (7.5km). There are beautiful views through the trees as you approach the head and then you pop out on another grassy knoll. I could see this being a good camping spot if you wanted to do it overnight. There are no facilities, but I did notice a stream less than a kilometre away. I wasn’t progressing as quickly as I needed to to meet Mom at the end of the trail, but I couldn’t help stopping at Spout Cove because I had finally spotted some whales!

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Whale-watching seems to be all about timing in Newfoundland. Some trips I don’t see a single whale, and other trips (this one), it’s like I can’t get away from them! There were several of them fishing further out and eventually I had to tear myself away to continue the hike. I didn’t make it far though as I was walking closer to the whales I’d been watching. Every now and then there would be a break in the trees and I would take a peep out to check on their progress. I knew I was getting closer because I could hear them spouting and spraying water through the trees! Eventually I came to a small viewpoint and hiked down the stairs to try my luck again. It ended up being the best show of the day! I was so close to the whales and there were 4 or 5 swimming around and diving, so I watched for as long as my schedule could spare.

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After that it was back into the trees around Black Head North and I started making a better pace. The trail went in and out of the trees more, offering up some truly gorgeous grassy cliffside views (I’m a sucker for meadows if you haven’t noticed how much I talk about the grass). There are lots of sea stacks between Chimney Gulch and Shoe Cove – by now the clouds had finally broken up and I had a gorgeous sunny, blue sky day in which to finish the hike. I spent most of it chuckling at Mom and being very pleased with myself for starting the hike in the drizzle.

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Even though I was still running behind, I couldn’t help but stop again when I arrived at Shoe Cove. Though Stiles Cove Path is 15km long, Shoe Cove is the only part of the trail that actually descends to a beach. The rest of the trail is along the bluffs, which makes for beautiful views, but every now and then it’s nice to actually go down to the water. Shoe Cove is a very narrow sheltered beach with a river pooling at the end of the beach before running into the ocean. There was no one around and I couldn’t resist going for a swim. First I thought I would just go in the river, which was insanely warm, but I decided to try the ocean too since it was so sheltered and was pleased to find that that water was actually pretty warm too! I didn’t have a swimsuit, so I went in my birthday suit, which is really such a freeing experience when you’re the only one around. I let the sun dry me off on the beach before continuing on to finish the last 3 kilometers of the hike. I had service, so I let Mom know I was running a little late.

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But I didn’t need to worry, there’s an uphill section after Shoe Cove and then it’s a pretty easy hike into Pouch Cove. There’s one more viewpoint at George’s Point that I hiked down to, but regretted because then I had to hike back up again. The views coming into Pouch Cove are excellent! The trail is exposed as you come into town, which makes for a scenic end to the trail. My Dad picked me up at the Church in Pouch Cove and in all, my GPS tracked exactly 15km and 250m total in elevation gain. It took me just over 5 hours to hike the entire trail – I took lots of breaks, so I did have to hike pretty fast to finish in 5 hours. Also, the more people you hike with, the slower you will go, so I recommend giving yourself a bit more time if you’re hiking this trail.

Overall, Stiles Cove Path is incredibly scenic. It is a longer trail, at 15km, but I didn’t find it to be a very difficult trail and has minimal elevation gain overall, so I definitely recommend it!

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